Rosemary DuVall.  My wife, my best friend, my confidant.  From the beginning we each knew that our aesthetic and intellectual and spiritual sensibilities matched perfectly.  Of course we had to withstand the barrage of discordant attacks and setbacks that marriages have to endure these days and there were times it was difficult, but our love and admiration for each other never waned.  If Love is the deepest, most encompassing word, then we loved each other without compromise.  The best way I can describe what we had is that it was a true marriage – she was a true wife, a true friend, a true confidant.  Just being around her every day made me a better husband, a better friend, a better man.

We talked to each other about anything and everything, we listened to music together while doing nothing else, and we endlessly played with the English language together.  We would email each other while in the same room, we would write letters and notes to each other, we would kiss once then twice then again.  We held hands or walked arm in arm when we went out.  We would strike up conversations with other people just for the fun of it.  I remember the smell of her hair, her profile, the way she drank her coffee, her hands, the look on her face while she read, her warm and luxurious voice, her smile as she slept, the way she folded our clothes, her impeccable way of dressing, her endless pairs of black shoes all polished, the assiduous way she worked and played, her rapid but ever kind wit, her apple pies.  I remember listening to her sing.

Rosemary’s tastes in music were unimpeachable.  One of her favorite groups was the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and her attraction to their recording of Faure’s Pavane never diminished.  She knew by heart and could flawlessly hum every line and counter line.  She loved to sing and could break into the most delicious harmonies whenever she wished.  Her favorite albums to sing along with were Joni Mitchell’s standards album and Dianne Reeves’ Bridges album.

Written and spoken words were a central part of our lives as well.  We were self-proclaimed, incurable and inexcusable Word-Nerd-Grammar-Geeks, and damn proud of it.  The main reason, the only reason, we loved all those literary absurdities is that it’s completely un-serious and just so much fun.  For us, finding the right word or getting a sentence just right was as exciting as searching for a lost treasure.  By actual count, we owned over 40 dictionaries and used every one of them.  And it all aligned with Rosemary’s philosophy of making things right without making anyone wrong.


It’s one of those lazy Sunday afternoons and we decide to listen to the third movement – just the third movement – of Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ 5th Symphony.  She lies on the couch with her head on one armrest while I sit against the other armrest with her feet on my lap.  We both close our eyes as the music begins and we bathe ourselves in one of the most perfect and perfectly beautiful works of art ever created.

The last chord is fading away, we open our eyes and look at each other for a long time.  A minute, an infinity, goes by.  She smiles and says, “Let’s do it again.”  So we do.  Then again and again.  During the third or fourth time, I keep my eyes open and watch her.  What a sight!  Her deep understanding of the beauty is so apparent, as if she has a direct line to Vaughan-Williams himself, and I wish I had the ability for that degree of duplication, that deep empathy, that enveloping wisdom.  Her face with eye lashes glistening and delicate smile is unmarred by temporal concerns, poised as if held by angels.

I don’t remember how many more times we listened to that third movement.  I don’t remember why it was that we stopped listening or when.  Perhaps we haven’t.


It’s a weekday afternoon and, even though we’re both home, we’re firing emails back and forth.  It develops into somewhat of a contest to see who can come up with the most remote word play.  As the “contest” goes on she keeps getting the better of me.  For one thing, her responses are immediate while I have to think a bit for mine.  After about a half an hour or so, I compliment her for being so eloquent.  She writes back, immediately of course, and the first sentence is “Ahh – the 5 Ellos!”  I read the rest of her brilliant response.  I sit amazed.  But mostly I’m perplexed by the ‘5 ellos’ thing.  I try and try to figure it out, getting more and more pressured as the minutes fly by, when it finally comes to me: elo-quent --> quent --> quint --> 5.  The “5 Ellos”!  I’m so blown away that I take off my white t-shirt and wave it in surrender.  She laughs, gives me a kiss, and tells me I’m the brilliant one.  A wit like that – pointed and brilliant yet kind and complimentary – is a rare pleasure.  And let’s face it, it’s much, much harder to master that kind of wit than the insulting and cutting kind.


It’s a June afternoon and I’m watching a baseball game on TV.  The second inning is just beginning and Joe Morgan, the color commentator, says, “Y’know, it’s ironic that both starting pitchers were born on the same day.”  Rosemary is walking by right then and the comment makes her stop.  She cocks her head a bit and asks me, “What did he just say?”

“He said that it’s ironic that both starting pitchers were born on the same day.”

“Why is that ironic?”

“It’s not ironic.”

“Then why did he say it’s ironic?”

“Ironic is the word sport commentators use when they mean coincidental.”

“Why do they do that?”

“I don’t know.  They just do.”

Well that lovely lady goes straight over to her desk and writes a letter to ABC Sports, pointing out that someone should go over the definition of ironic with Joe Morgan.

The wonderful thing about that letter was that there was not the slightest implication that Joe Morgan was wrong, rather that this would help him.  Yes, help him.  I don’t know if it was her letter in particular or the thousands they must have gotten, but about a month later I heard Joe Morgan use ironic and then he quickly added, “Well I guess that’s not really ironic, it’s...”  His partner, Jon Miller, helped him finish, “No, I guess that would be coincidental wouldn’t it?”  Joe answered, “Yeah, I guess it is.”


I had just finished writing a short story called But They’re Really Great Words! and decided my reward would be reading The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.  In that fabulous novel, Edith uses the word propinquity four times.  I didn’t know what it meant so I looked it up and found that it means nearness or being close by.  I really liked the word mostly because of the sound of it, how it delicately rolls out of the mouth.  I’m excited.  So I tell Rosemary I’ve just discovered the neatest new word and she asks what it is.  Just after I say “propinquity” she holds up her hand and says, “Wait.  I know.  It means being close doesn’t it?”  Now how in the world did she know that?

I announce that I’m so excited about it that I’m going to include it in the short story I just finished.  She thinks for a few moments and says, “But there’s really no place for it, is there?”  I can’t think of one either but I assure her I’ll either find a place or make one.  Now, anyone will tell you that deciding on a word to use then writing or changing a story to accommodate that word is about the worst writing technique there is.  But I’m determined.

I show her my first version.  It’s pretty bad but she’s not critical at all.  Instead, she offers some advice.  She suggests that I ought to get used to using the word, familiarize myself with it, before I use it in my writing.  That way, when I do use it, it’ll sound natural and not contrived.  I think this is good advice so I begin using the word about a dozen times a day.  (My friends look at me like I’m nuts.)

I’m out running errands one day and call her from the car.  “I can’t wait until we’re in propinquity.”  (Bad, I know.)  She responds without hesitation, “Ahh, the sweet propinquity of my Honey!”  Wow.  Notice she uses the word ‘sweet’ then calls me honey?  Now that’s good.  Damn good.  And that’s how that fecund mind of hers worked.

I keep rewriting and rewriting and it’s never right.  She keeps giving me advice after advice but I still can’t make it work.  At last she explains the problem: propinquity is just not used any more, it’s no longer part of our everyday speech and language and it’s doubtful that it will ever come across as natural.  I can see this, it makes sense, so I take the propinquity section out of my short story.  What follows is a testament to Rosemary’s sense of fair play.

About a week later she calls me into the dining room and asks me to sit down.  I sit.  On the table is a copy of Shop Girl by Steve Martin.  She looks at me squarely with a twinkle in her eye and a slight wry smile, and says, “Dear, I apologize.”

“Uh ... okay.  For what?”

“Well, Steve Martin just used the word propinquity two times in three pages.”

“Aha!  I’m vindicated!”  I shoot up out of my chair.  She’s laughing.  We’re both laughing.

Immediately, we go into one of our impromptu shticks.  She apologizes for her … ahem … bad advice and asks what she can do to make up the damage.  I think for a moment or so then “sternly” demand that she write a letter to Steve Martin and inform him that if I don’t get a portion of his royalties I’m going to sue him for stealing my idea of reintroducing the word propinquity into every day speech.  She actually wrote that letter and it was an absolute hoot.


Rosemary comes home from running some errands and goes straight to her desk and with absolute concentration works pencil and paper for about five minutes.  Then she gets up, says nothing to me, and puts away what she had bought.  I walk over to her desk and read this poem.

Jacarandas bloom

In a K-Mart parking lot,

Proving Beauty

Can live anywhere.

I like it immediately because, despite its unassuming simplicity, I feel there’s much to be discovered – a very Emily Dickinson-like quality.  I walk into the bedroom and tell her I really like her poem.  She slowly turns around, opens her eyes only half way, smiles faintly and says, without pretence, thank you.  Then she fully opens her eyes – so beautiful – and holds my gaze as if to inquire if my understanding was as deep as the poem’s meanings.  I smile and take the hint.

With the poem taped to the side of my computer monitor, I read it often and wonder about it.  I think about Jacaranda trees, that they really serve no practical purpose that other trees can’t fulfill better and less expensively.  I mean, they’re seldom, if ever, used for making tables or doors or frames for houses.  And those stunningly beautiful lavender blossoms only show themselves one month a year.  Why do people plant them?  Why are they here at all?

I notice that the first two lines are in a tight rhythm, which sets up an expectation that’s not fulfilled by the last two lines, which are almost rhythm-less.  In other words, the first two lines reach out unmistakably; the second two lines withdraw so it’s as if you have to move forward and grasp them.

One interpretation I come up with is that perhaps Rosemary was making an oblique statement that K-Marts and their parking lots aren’t beautiful and that the K-Mart management should take a hint from the Jacarandas and do something about it.  But that didn’t ring true: it wasn’t Rosemary’s nature to make derisive or negative statements.

I think that perhaps Rosemary was admiring the person who decided to plant Jacarandas in an asphalt parking lot in front of a very unattractive building, that he or she wanted to inject some aesthetics into an otherwise un-aesthetic environment, that that person was making the statement that beauty could live anywhere.  That works but I know there’s more.

I then think that perhaps Rosemary was saying how beautiful people are in general in that they’re willing to plant and take care of an impractical tree in return for one month of beauty a year, that this appreciation and desire for beauty is an admirable quality.  And that’s good.  I like it.  Still, I know there’s more.

I’m amid a crushing deadline and look like it: stubble like a rain forest, old sweat pants, old t-shirt, the works.  I decide to spend a few minutes with Rosemary while she gets ready to go grocery shopping.  I admire the fact that even though she’s just going to the local market, she looks very nice: gorgeous hair (as always), jeans and shirt pressed, shoes are polished, embroidered socks identically fit, everything is tip-top and just-so.  And these are just her kick-around casual clothes, nothing fancy.  As I look at and admire her, something is coalescing in the back of my mind and the longer I look and admire, the more pressing it becomes.  By the time she leaves I hurry back to my computer, read the poem again and I finally get it.

Jacarandas!  It’s the Jacarandas who are delivering the message of beauty!  Their only true purpose is beauty.  And they don’t care where they are, even if it’s in the middle of a stained and cracked and bubbling asphalt parking lot in front of an ugly building.  And why doesn’t it matter to them?  Because there is never a wrong place for beauty, there is never a wrong time for beauty.  Beauty is always welcome, beauty is always appropriate.  And that’s the real message.  It’s a lesson too, straight from the Jacarandas.  And it took Rosemary’s beautiful mind to see it and a beautiful life like hers to exemplify it.


Rosemary used to say that she wished she could be “The Buddha”: never ruffled or dismayed by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.  (And, yes, she did quote Shakespeare.)  There were times, to be honest, when she was adversely affected by the misfortunes of life.  Occasionally she would cry, occasionally she would worry,  and there were even a few occasions when she grew angry.  But those times always passed quickly and afterward she would be working her own philosophy again: ever striving for communication and love and harmony and understanding.  There were many beauties, all pure and elevated, in the way she understood, the way she listened, the way she inspired, the way she helped.

Throughout our marriage, even including those thirteen months of illness, Rosemary continually remained true to her nature.  She did not complain, she did not finger point, she did not feel sorry for herself.  Her senses of humor and of irony never waned, her senses of the sublime and of the absurd never withered, neither did her willingness and ability to recognize and admire beauty, nor the kindness with which she regarded others, nor the tenderness that radiated from that softly beating velvet heart.  Of the four facets of life – spiritual, emotional, mental and physical – it was only the physical that failed.  And that, my dear friends, is the truest telling.  Her constancy was complete.  In my mind and in my life, she is “The Buddha”.

And the sky, moteless, reaches past the sun.

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